Seeing something out of place is all we need to be a leader

This week I had a confrontational conversation with a group of students regarding their end of year exhibition – the one opportunity they have to display two years of work in the hope of making a mark on industry leaders. I felt their standard of prep-work to date was well below standard. It was a robust conversation and it cut deep. A part of the conversation turned to holding each other to standard. That they were a team, and if others were to slack off, it would negatively affect them and could even halt the exhibition from going ahead.

The students that felt they were doing the right thing didn’t like this. “We can’t take responsibility for other students. We are not their babysitter!”, one student claimed.

And, this student was correct. They are not babysitters. So, when we see poor behaviour from our peers, the questions is – what do we do? It is a common occurrence in a lot of workplaces where peer behaviour is sub-standard bringing down the quality of everyone else’s work.

I feel it starts with an invitation to lead. Just because we don’t have “manager” in our title doesn’t mean we can’t lead. Just because you don’t have a team of people reporting to us doesn’t mean we can’t lead either – there are clients, suppliers, partners, and all sorts of stakeholders to lead. We can lead by seeing something out of place and doing something about it.

Hugh Mackay AO, the Australian Psychologist, sociologist, and social researcher writes in his latest book, Australia Reimagined, that, “Attitudes don’t change behaviours, it is behaviours that change attitudes”. Mackay writes about what citizens can do to stop the increase in fragmentation being experienced in Australian society. I feel this very much applies to our workplaces, too.

By behaving as a standard bearer, which includes calling out rubbish behaviours, we are behaving as leaders. We are showing that we care about the project we are involved in. It is a powerful signal that an office manager needs to work doubly hard to achieve.

The alternative is to stay silent. Do nothing. Say nothing. A clear signal that whatever the offending behaviour was is ok.

It’s like having a mum that doesn’t yell at you for getting your new school uniform bloodied and dirty from playing footy at lunchtime. It would mean that mum didn’t care about how I looked and how I treated my clothes. It would send the signal that my belongings don’t matter, and they don’t need to be cared for. At the time, I didn’t like what mum had to say, but she was spot on. And I thank her (and dad!) for teaching me these lessons that I now hold as a standard in adult life.

By seeing something out-of-place, we have the explicit invitation to lead. To maintain the standard. This not only keeps standards high, but it also builds trust and respect through the use of truth.

Paul Farina, Team Performance Specialist,

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